Some 107 communities in 24 states representing 11.3 million people have now passed resolutions opposing the federal USA Patriot Act. Alaska is expected to join Hawaii in opposing the Patriot Act, as is the city of Baltimore. This could be the beginnings of unexpected political opposition to the Bush re-election campaign, especially since the opposition now includes an important sector of the conservative movement itself. Such entities as the Eagle Forum and American Conservative Union are speaking out strongly against the act as a violation of civil liberties and have joined with the ACLU and other liberal groups in a coalition to fight the act.
The assault has forced the government to launch its own lobbying effort to buoy support for the legislation. In the Albany FBI office, Keith A. DeVincentis, the special agent in charge, recently went to bat against the Ithaca city council, which had passed a resolution against the Patriot Act. “Contrary to popular television and theatrical portrayals, the FBI initiates cases predicated on facts, not suspicions or guesswork,” DeVincentis said, and he added that the Ithaca councilmembers should “be aware that the FBI has been the primary entity in the United States responsible for investigating and bringing to justice those who seek to violate the constitutional rights of the American people.”
In Arizona, Senator Jon Kyl openly attacked the Tucson city council for passing a resolution opposing the Patriot Act. Kyl claimed that such “resolutions expressing doubts” about the Patriot Act represent “less than one-half of one percent of all incorporated municipalities in the United States.” Kyl went on to insist that Tucson’s action was unlike that of the U.S. Senate, which he said “thoroughly debated” the legislation that passed with “overwhelming bipartisan support.” (At the time, Congress was criticized for failing to debate the act.)
Meanwhile, the government’s prosecutions under the act look fishy. The Philadelphia Inquirer, working with Syracuse University, found that 60 Middle Eastern men charged with terrorism in the fall of 2002 actually were guilty only of cheating on an English test for admission to a U.S. university. And that’s just for starters. So far, the government has filed charges against 56 people for terrorism, but 41 of them had nothing to do with terrorism. They included Latinos accused of working without green cards at a Texas airport and people who allegedly trespassed on the navy’s Vieques firing range in Puerto Rico. Activists there worked hard to get the navy to quit firing live ammunition on the island. Now they find themselves facing terrorist charges.
Of the total of 56, six men had alleged ties to terrorist groups, and a few others were supposedly connected to money laundering alleged to have connections with terrorist operations.
A GAO audit concluded that three-quarters of all “international terrorism” cases were not about terrorism.
Additional reporting: Phoebe St John and Joanna Khenkine